A Play, A Pie and a Pint at Òran Mór is one of the most iconic regular events that takes place in Glasgow. For your ticket, you are given a small-scale performance with up to three actors, alongside a beverage and your lunch to enjoy as you watch.
Recent themes in the current season of plays have included sci-fi and political satire, but for the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, in association with Luminate, a new play Descent was performed six times over consecutive days, promising an accurate account of dementia and its struggles. I was intrigued: how would such a serious health issue be conveyed among more light-hearted plays in such a basic form?
One set and three characters were all that was needed. The play followed Rob (Barrie Hunter), an architect who is developing dementia. His wife Cathy (Wendy Seager) and young adult daughter Nicola (Fiona MacNeil) are forced to deal with his downfall and both have different methods on how to do so. Rob goes from a spontaneous, fun-searching worker to being paranoid, scared of change and unable to remember the most basic tasks. Admittedly, I went into the play without knowing much at all about the dementia. All I knew was that the person will suffer memory loss. But after a quick Google search, I was greeted with the synonyms ‘insanity’ and ‘lunacy’.
Thankfully, Descent showed both those synonyms to be wrong. It truly educated me, and, more than likely, many audience members, about the true reality of living with dementia. Along with forgetfulness, there can be frustration, lack of logic and a complete change in personality. Hunter portrayed the role of a sufferer accurately. At the beginning of the play, his character Rob showed no effects of the illness and the audience even laughed when he started falling into memory loss.
A game of Trivial Pursuit between the characters where Rob claims that England won the World Cup in 1066 gained the most laughter of all. However, the more serious his condition became and the more he forgot, the less we were laughing. After Cathy has to pick him up from work for the umpteenth time because he has forgotten how to drive his car, the message becomes clear: dementia is a serious, life-changing illness.
Seager and MacNeil also played their characters excellently. The mother and daughter duo argue numerous times over how Rob should be treated. Cathy is adamant he should be looked after at home, while Nicola believes he should be taken into a nursing home. They conveyed the struggle of family members looking after a loved one who does not want to be looked after and their characters generated the most tears among the audience.
Written by Linda Duncan McLaughlin and directed by Allie Butler, Descent was a realistic portrayal of dementia. We finally live in a world where mental health conditions, including dementia, are being counted as real illnesses, and productions like Descent are helping to educate on the warning signs. The play’s true message is that no one should have to go through dementia alone and help needs to be there when they need it.
Written by Rebecca Cook
Having completed its run at Òran Mór, A Play, A Pie & A Pint continues with Descent at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh until Sat 24 Oct, with an additional evening performance at 7pm on Fri 23 Oct.